Holding Hands

My story caring for my in-laws

It happened both gradually and suddenly. An accident suddenly laid bare how much gradual decline my in-laws had undergone and how much practical help, emotional support and general care and company they really needed.

As the family rallied around, each doing what we could when we could do it, I gave everyone the same piece of advice: look after yourself to avoid burning out.

I was aware of the pitfalls associated with letting caring for others take over life. I’d experienced them first hand myself when my partner had been signed off work with stress and I’d put myself at the bottom of my own priority list and I was overwhelmed. I’d also witnessed my own wider family care for both my grandmothers and the effects that had on individual people and relationships.

I looked back over the lessons I’d learnt, the strategies I’d developed and started to re-implement them in order to look after myself, and keep focussed on the other things that are important to me too. As I became aware of the differences between now and when I’d been supporting my partner I adapted what I was doing and created a new set of pointers for carers.

 

While my overall advice to anyone in any support / caregiving situation stays the same - look after yourself to be in the best position to look after others – I’ve noticed some differences between supporting my partner and helping to care for my in-laws:
Relationships: My partner stayed “partner” throughout and when we felt we could say we’d weathered the storm, it was still a partnership and perhaps a stronger one. From when I first met them my in-laws were the “grown ups”, the people who could help if we needed it, the ones who prepared the food and gave tea and sympathy. And that was flipped on its head.
Location: Apart from when I was at work my partner and I were generally together, so support could be in short bursts when needed. Not being in the same place as my in-laws means that while I can step away (physically at least), visiting in order to provide company and help also entails a journey and usually a longer stint, which brings with it a whole different set of challenges.
Other people: Especially in the beginning, my partner and I were a team of two. From the start with my in-laws there were other siblings and their partners, wider family, friends etc involved. This brought with it the opportunity of shared responsibility and experience, as well as the need for more communication and consultation.

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